CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER Review

Our summer of super heroes goes out on a rather high note with "Captain America: The First Avenger". I was skeptical about this one from the get-go though, hiring a director like Joe Johnston who has made plenty of fun and youth oriented flicks like "Jumanji" and most importantly "The Rocketeer" but who also made one of last years biggest bombs with "The Wolfman" was a little unnerving. This kind of mentality mixed with the casting of the charismatic Chris Evans whose only real draw back was the fact he already played a Marvel super hero in "The Fantastic Four" films made the doubtful end of the see-saw much heavier than the optimistic side. I envisioned a much more credible actor in the role, especially if this guy is going to lead next summers most ambitious film to box office gold and glowing reviews. Credit must be given where it is due though and Evans turns in a dedicated and honest performance that makes this origin tale of the first avenger not only good fun but a great prelude to what is sure to be next summers biggest film.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is welcomed back
by cheers after a daring rescue. 
What is truly impressive here is the fact Johnston and crew were able to accomplish all that needed to be done in a brief two hours. In having to both tie in the good ole captain to the present world after telling his origin story from World War II as well as giving a glimpse of the root of all this evil that will unite the comic book universe's greatest heroes, these guys had a lot on their plates and they accomplished all in a manner that doesn't feel rushed and is just as well-made as its counter part "Thor" and just as much fun as the great "X-Men: First Class" all of which trump the debacle that was "The Green Lantern". But let us forget all the exterior factors that surround this movie and simply talk about this one and why it is in fact a worthy addition to the Marvel cannon. "Captain America" in reality is a bit of a corny hero so to transfer this to the big screen in this day and age when comic book films are expected to be dark and gritty took some very careful planning. One thing the film nails is the casting, especially with the supporting players. Without them, the dialogue they are asked to speak would no doubt sound rather stale, but Tommy Lee Jones as an old school military chief is both funny and intimidating enough to be taken seriously. Stanley Tucci could have turned his scientist character who creates the serum that transforms Steve Rogers into Captain America into a complete stereotype but instead he adds flair, even through is exaggerated accent. And that isn't even everyone on the good guys side. To get someone like Dominic Cooper to play a young Howard Stark (father of Tony) is ingenious as was getting Hayley Atwell, a young actress with indie cred, to play the against type leading female role. Both of these young actors add weight to a premise that might have otherwise gone without a single thought provoking idea.

Hugo Weaving as the evil Red Skull.
On the other side of things we are given a pitch perfect Hugo Weaving in what might be the most impressive comic to screen make-up job ever. As Red Skull, Weaving not only accentuates every ounce of his characters eccentricities but he makes them and his lunacy palpable. It is a moment when he rips away his human face and reveals the beet red chrome underneath. It is a complete success in terms of staying faithful while not looking ridiculous. In short, it is the best possible way the makers could have pulled off the look of this demonic character while appeasing the fans who couldn't wait to see such a legendary character grace the screen. It also doesn't hurt that Weaving is given Toby Jones to play his faithful sidekick, who is more Jimmy Olsen than Igor. Together, these guys are trying to harness the source of Odin's legendary power. Red Skulls alter ego Johann Schmidt was a failed experiment of Tucci's character and so America is lucky to have the only other super soldier out there, thus it is Captain America's duty to stop the Red Skull from doing what all bad guys want to do when they gain control of an unimaginable source of power: take over the world. Before the good captain gets to fly into action though we get a nice little montage of Evans in the classic Captain America outfit acting as spokesman on a publicity tour for the military that eventually takes him to the front lines. It is the little details and nods to the audience such as this that make this film relate to a modern audience. We can see when Evans strolls out on stage reading cue cards from the back of his shield in an attempt to get money donated that the makers are winking at the audience. We get the nods to action adventures of yesteryear when Captain America rides through the forest on his motorcycle and takes out the henchmen or as he runs from the fire engulfing the compound where he's just rescued his fellow soldiers. I guess the trick is that "Captain America" doesn't in fact take itself too seriously and is instead a throwback itself to those fun, involving action packed film you watched as a 10-year-old and were completely enthralled with.

Captain America in action.
With all the elements this film had to take care of and with all of them being elegantly handled in the films denouement that doesn't exactly wrap things up, but instead sets them up it only makes me and no doubt countless others all the more excited for next summer's "The Avengers" (which you caught a sneak peek of if you hung around after the credits). Evans may not possess the razzmatazz of Downey Jr. or the overwhelming physique of Hemsworth but he honestly stayed true to the spirit of the character that was created for this comic book. In every other role Evans has essentially played various versions of his own witty and slightly quirky self, but he contains that here and instead becomes a 98 pound weakling that is given the opportunity to attain his unreachable dream and does so with true integrity. There is something to be applauded about his performance and in his casting. I was all but hopeful for this project when the details began to emerge yet I was proven wrong on almost every level. Could the movie have done with a little more credibility and a little less cheesiness? Sure, but it also could have been much worse than this finely tuned and very entertaining action flick. Here's to Captain America, our last super hero of the summer, but the first avenger that we can hardly wait to see in action again.